About 43% of American women will have one (or occasionally more) abortions
during their lifetime. Women's centers and hospitals perform more than a million
abortions per year. Abortions are obviously in great demand. But why?
Women have many reasons for not wanting to be pregnant, and thus to seek an
abortion. Many are related to:
Age: Most abortions are done on women under the age of 25.
status: Most women seeking abortions are unmarried; many other are separated from their spouse.
Economic status: Many are poor and feel that they cannot afford to raise
In a study by Torres and Forrest (1998) --
based on 1987 data -- women gave an average of 3.7 reasons for wanting an
The vast majority (in excess of 90%) of abortions are
sought for personal reasons:
21% feel that they do not have the financial resources to bring up
21% feel that they are not ready for the responsibility of raising a child.
16% feel that their life would be changed too much. She might have a plan for her
future (education, developing a career, etc.)
that does not allow for having a child at the present time. She might be
looking after an elderly parent and does not have sufficient time or
energy to commit to a baby.
12% feel that her relationship with her partner is in difficulty.
11% feel that they are too young, and not sufficiently mature to
become a mother.
In 8% of the cases, her children are grown and she does not want to
start another family, or she has all the children that she wants.
Some of these reasons may be influenced by:
Pressure from the father or from her parents to have an
She feels that she lacks the emotional and physical strength to go
through another pregnancy and raise the child.
She believes that raising an additional child would short-change her
She is a student and/or without a partner; she feels that raising a
child would be too difficult and disruptive at her time in life.
She doesn't want other people to know that she became pregnant.
A child would interfere with her career or education.
She may fear physical abuse from a parent if they learn of her
She may fear being tossed out onto the street by a parent if they
learn of her pregnancy.
In the case of a multiple pregnancy, the woman may be faced with
giving birth to more newborns than she feels she can deal with.
About 6% of all abortions are sought because either the woman or
fetus has medical reasons:
The fetus might have been hurt by exposure to high levels of toxic
chemicals, medications that might be dangerous to the fetus, alcohol,
drugs, etc. They may cause the fetus to be genetically damaged.
Some girls become pregnant at a very young age, when pregnancy can
The fetus has a genetic defect or other health problem. Almost
all of the couples who find that the fetus suffers from Down's Syndrome, or a
similar defect, elect to have an abortion.
The woman may develop eclampsia. This involves a sudden increase in
blood pressure, and onset of seizures. The results can be fatal to both
the woman and fetus. This used to be called toxemia of pregnancy.
In the case of a multiple pregnancy -- quintuplets, sextuplets, etc.
-- some or all of the fetuses will
end up with various long-term health problems; some may not survive at
all. Physicians will sometimes recommend a selective reduction process
where one or more fetuses are killed in order that the remaining fetuses
would be born normal.
About 1% of all abortions are sought because of abusive sexual act:
About ten to fifteen thousand abortions (approximately 1%)
sought because the conception occurred after rape or during an incestuous
and the woman does not want to bear a child
who was conceived in violence. 2
Why women decide to have an abortion late in
In 2001, About 59% of abortions were performed before the 9th week of
gestation; A further 19% are performed during the 9th
or 10th week. A further 20% were
performed between 11 and 20 weeks inclusive.
These data show a gradual shift towards more
abortions being performed earlier in gestation.
In 1987. women who have later-term abortions -- 16 weeks or more since last
menstrual period -- give a variety of reasons for their decision. This
appears to be the most recent data available. It was republished in a report
by Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH) & The
Guttmacher Institute (AGI) in 2005, Women gave
an average of 2.2 reasons for a late-term abortion:
71% did not recognize that she was pregnant.
48% had difficulty arranging for an abortion; it took time to raise
the money; they had to first get a Medicaid card; they couldn't arrange
33% were afraid to tell parents or partner of the pregnancy.
24% needed time to make a decision.
8% hoped that a bad relationship would change.
8% felt pressure to not have an abortion.
6% had some major change during the pregnancy.
6% did not know that timing was important.
5% did not know that she could get an abortion.
2% found out late in pregnancy that the fetus had an abnormality.
11% gave other reasons. 3
At least some of the 11% who gave other reasons may well have have
delayed revealing their pregnancies until later, so that friends and family
would not try to convince her to not have an abortion.
Why women decide to have an abortion very late in
Only 1.4% of abortions are done after 20
weeks. In 1997, only about 0.08% of abortions were performed after 24 weeks, at a
time when the fetus may be viable. 2
There has been a great deal of controversy about
the use of intact D&X abortions, commonly called
partial birth abortions, in which the fetus is partly delivered feet-first, an
opening is made in the back of its skull, its brains are removed by suction, its
head collapses, and its body is removed, dead, from the woman. Pro-life
information sources tend to go into great detail about the details of the
procedure. We have never seen a pro-life information source describe why
D&X procedures are done.
Very few abortions after 20 weeks are elective;
almost all are done for medical reasons. All or essentially all medial
associations in U.S. states and Canadian provinces have a gestational time limit
beyond which elective abortions cannot be performed. This is typically 20 or 21
weeks. The individual associations have different rules. However, in most areas
of North America, medical associations allow D&X procedures only if there is a
very severe and serious threat to the woman's health, or a threat to the woman's
life, or when the fetus is very severely malformed.
"An Overview of Abortion in the United States,"
Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH) & The Guttmacher
2005-JUN, Page 10, at:
http://www.agi-usa.org/pubs/abslides/ You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
from a report by Torres and Forrest (1988) and is based on 1987 data.